The inhabitants of Burriana (Castellón) use the popular expression Burriana, Paris and London to show their pride of belonging to this town that was an important Muslim town and later nerve center of King Jaime I in the reconquest of Valencia. The saying is poisoned. The residents of the surrounding towns use it to make fun of the boastful character of its inhabitants.
Behind that pretentious reputation, this town Mediterranean With about 34,500 inhabitants, it is a place with close people and a family atmosphere, which was thrown every summer with those attending the Arenal Sound music festival. His absence has returned to the town the marine sounds taken by electronics. What they did not expect this low-flow year – at the Aloha, the only hotel in the town, only half of its 30 rooms are occupied, and very few foreigners – was that the most enigmatic, elusive and publicized artist in the world would Has been Banksy in Burriana?
“I am familiar with this artist to see him in the press,” says a hotel worker from the reception. “Who?” A fisherman, eager to fix the nets, responds curtly. “Ah, yes, they have been there, we saw them from here.” With their backs to the pier, on the great fine sand beach of Burriana some posts mark the social distance and remind that the covid-19 fully affected the town due to the celebrations prior to the failures. For the first time in many years, the empty shore is reminiscent of the luminous and traditional paintings of Joaquín Sorolla.
This was the perfect place to carry out his new trolleada, because hours before the press broke the news, few knew in the port of Burriana the name and work of the British urban artist who has made his anonymity one of his main assets. Money from tal Banksy was behind the unusual ship 30 meters long in pink and with the word “rescue”(Ransom) written on its sides that it landed in that guise on June 23. “We called it the Gay Pride boat,” laughs Ismael, a neighbor in his fifties with his tattooed arms right in front of his small pleasure boat with which he goes fishing.
“They had been here for several months, they had their parties and then they passed by with their heads down because they had fun while we worked,” adds Damián, a local sailor who sells anchovies in a dock just 10 meters from where the boat was docked. None of the ten fishermen who roam the port have spoken with the crew led by the German navigator and activist Pia Klemp, whom Banksy emailed in 2019 to fund his project. Just a few suspicious glances, a few jokes and get on with it.
Lonely clients with a bohemian look
“In recent weeks some lonely clients have passed through here, many foreigners, even some with a bohemian appearance,” says José Rodríguez, owner of the Arenal restaurant, which shares a building with the Fishermen’s Association. It is his interpretation of the possible appearance of Banksy, which he has not heard of in his life. Neither he nor the waiters who pick up the place with total indifference to the news. “I haven’t even seen the boat,” Rodríguez says.
The boat, baptized as Louise Michel in honor of a French feminist anarchist from the Paris Commune, she sailed on August 18, secretly from the world, in full view of Burriana, to the central Mediterranean, where she has already rescued 219 people with the help of the Sea Watch 4, seeing itself overwhelmed.
“Like many people who have succeeded in the art world, I have bought a yacht to sail the Mediterranean”, the artist ironizes in his last post of Instagram, in which he confirms that he has invested part of the money from one of his millionaire auctions in a humanitarian ship that would have cost him, according to calculations Daily Mail, about 964,000 euros.
Whether Banksy is a person, a collective or, as some say, the singer of Massive Attack, since he began to distribute his innocent satirical graffiti around the world his interventions have been sophisticated at the same rate as his fame and value. In 2015 he created Dismaland, a macabre amusement park 30 kilometers from Bristol where he gathered all his obsessions. Two years later, he opened a hotel in Palestine with “the worst views in the world” packed with his works. From the main hall came the Three oil paintings overlooking the Mediterranean with orange life jackets piled up on the banks, which Sotheby’s auctioned last July for 2.4 million euros, which Banksy used to buy equipment for a children’s hospital in Bethlehem.
Its objective now is to highlight the inaction of the European Union in the face of calls for help from the sea and in fact in just two days it has succeeded in getting international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Agency for refugees (UNHCR) put the focus back on the Mediterranean and have issued a call to action. “All black lives matter,” he concluded, referring to the motto of the anti-racism movement in the United States.
How have you managed to go unnoticed in Spain? “The day before leaving they called me because they needed diesel. That has been the only contact I have had with them. Yes, I know they are all foreigners, ”says Juan Bautista Borja, secretary of the Burriana Fishermen’s Association and head of the fishing port. The naval repair area, on the opposite wing of the dock, where people hardly walk, depends on the Port Authority of the Generalitat Valenciana. Here nobody meddles in the neighbor’s affairs.
This imaginary separation has made it possible to maintain the mystery of the Louise Michel. As well as the special permission that the council of Mónica Oltra, vice president of the Generalitat, has granted to four NGO boats for the rescue of immigrants in the Mediterranean with the exemption of paying port taxes. Another issue that is cause for complaint among fishermen.
Banksy’s ship has been assisted by crews from the Alan Kurdi, the Open Arms and the Sea Watch 4, the other three vessels that have been moored in Burriana in recent months. Will they know the face of Banksy?
We approach the only one left on land for clues. It is the Alan Kurdi, the old merchant ship of the German NGO Sea-Eye, named after the Syrian boy drowned on a Turkish beach in 2015, and scheduled to go out to sea next week. The captain, Joachim Ebeling, and the manager, Jan Krüger, immediately invite us to visit the ship now occupied by only six people. “I think it’s very good that Banksy uses his art to make a political statement and that people talk about us thanks to his fame,” says Ebeling, a merchant seaman who has been captaining the ship for two years, which since 2015 has rescued more than 7,000 persons. She explains that they are very grateful to the welcome that the port of Burriana offers to the NGOs and acknowledges that, although each one goes their own way, “we help each other a lot when we are here. Collaboration is constant ”.
At the Louise Michel, notes the captain of Alan Kurdi, “they are a group of girls, feminists and vegans.” It is curious to him that the crew of the Louise Michel it functions as a horizontal organization, without hierarchy, where no one rules over anyone, but only women can speak on behalf of the project. The 10 members of the ship are European activists with long experience in rescues who identify as anti-racists and anti-fascists who advocate for radical political change.
But it is Krüger who has participated in the evening meetings the fishermen were talking about. Did you know that this boat belonged to Banksy? “It was a secret that some knew,” she admits. But when we reply that it is impossible for someone in such a familiar environment not to know, he ends up recognizing it. “Yes, we knew.” And did you see it? Krüger assures that no and, immediately, Ebeling throws him a cable: “Nobody knows if it is a woman or a man, if it is black or white, so if it was one of them, no idea”.
As a detective, the manager of Alan Kurdi offers a clue that seems key. “What I can tell you is that the ship arrived here painted pink. It also had the heart-shaped emergency float. But until the day he left, the girl with the life jacket [que se puede ver a babor en las fotografías del barco en altamar] It was not painted, I saw it today when I saw the photos of the ship in the press ”.
He Louise Michel It was moored in the second row with its left side protected from the curious by the Oceaner, a large ship built in Germany in 1962 to plow through the great European rivers that continues at the dock. The images of the I already crossing the Mediterranean show that it is right on that side where the illustration of the girl is, with the characteristic style of Banksy’s characters: black and white templates of hyper-realistic figures that execute a light, delicate action. If we believe Krüger, Banksy was able to arrive in Burriana on the last day and finish her work in safety just before leaving it to sail.
We make a last stop at the Burrifornia Surf Café, a Californian-style terrace on the roundabout that gives access to the port. Pepe Vicent, one of the owners of the premises, is surprised by the news. “I love that Burriana is known for this reason and not because of the festival,” he says. Three years ago, when the Open Arms first docked in town, he volunteered painting the ship. “They usually meet here,” he says. Get to know the atmosphere that brews among the crews and enjoy interacting with them. “I do not know anything, but I tell you that if Banksy has come, surely he has had a few beers here.” Burriana, Paris and London. In all three the ghost of Banksy is just as elusive.